Bunnings nails down older workers

BUNNINGS managing director John Gillam was speaking to The Weekend Australian yesterday when he should have been at a party for an employee who has just racked up 45 years’ service with the national hardware chain.

Mr Gillam ducked away quickly to make an appearance at the function, but first he was keen to point out the huge benefits of retaining and hiring older workers such as the 45-year veteran.

Bunnings has recruited about 2000 “team members” aged over 55 in the past five years, making the Wesfarmers-owned business one of the biggest employers of older Australians.

In fact, many of them star in the company’s hard-to-avoid television advertisements that feature Bunnings shop-floor staff from stores around Australia.

Mr Gillam said the rate of hiring older workers at Bunnings was continuing to increase as retirees looked to return to the workforce, either because they were bored at home or were searching for greater financial security in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Retaining workers who are past normal retirement age is also a priority. Among the Bunnings workforce are two men in their early 80s.

“We are not fearful of having older workers,” Mr Gillam said.

“We find they have patience and a depth of knowledge, and they love teaching the younger workers. The older workers generally command more respect.”

Matt Higgins, the founder of online job bulletin board Olderworkers, said many employers had recognised the benefits of targeting baby boomers who were seeking to re-enter the workforce, often because their superannuation funds had been hit by the recent market volatility,

More than 1000 companies had signed on as registered employers to the bulletin board, including Woolworths, the Commonwealth Bank and Allianz Insurance.

“These businesses actively seek older workers for their mentoring capabilities and experience,” Mr Higgins said. “They understand that Australia is an ageing population and sometimes customers like to speak to people with life skills.”

Mr Gillam said encouraging older workers back into the workforce was an obvious remedy to Australia’s worsening skills shortage.

But he warned that employers needed to provide an employment model that would encourage and support a permanent employee working only 20 to 25 hours a week, which suited many older workers.

As society’s thinking changes about the role of older Australians, Mr Gillam believes notions of a retirement age will disappear.

“We don’t have a retirement age here — that’s just a nonsense,” he said.

Source: The Australian

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